Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Misery by Stephen King - Review

Am I twisted if I finish a book like this and then think: wow, that was a fun ride! Some might say that I am, but I just like to think of it as recognizing a brilliant creative mind when I see one. Throughout, this novel was classic King, with all the twists, bloody details, and character development expected from the master. It was also interesting to read this after having watched the movie in the past. I thought the Annie in that was a psycopath, but King's original character takes the insanity cake, licks off all the icing, and then spits it back out before serving it to her guests. I don't know if I have ever encountered a crazier character, written or acted, than Annie Wilkes.

King decided to present this story through the perspective of a writer, something he has done in other novels (The Shining, The Dark Half, Lisey's Story, etc) with great outcomes. Misery is no different. Throughout the novel, King explores what it means to be a writer, from dealing with motivations to writer's block to pushing past the slush and the frustration to break free into the land of the wonderful. He does this through Paul Sheldon, a famous author of the Misery books, a romance series based in pre-colonial times. He owes his fame to these books, but he is also trying to escape them and write that novel to become known as a more 'serious' author. After completing the first draft of this savior novel, he takes it upon himself to celebrate and the next thing he knows he is drugged and in a lifetime of pain in the home of Annie Wilkes: he had been in a near-fatal accident on a snowy, windy road in the dead of winter. By chance, luck, or some strange fate, Annie had been the one to find him. And Annie is his biggest fan. And Annie is crazier than a pitbull with hot sauce on its nuts.

The rest of the novel focuses on Annie and Paul's interactions. We slowly, but surely, see her psychotic nature unfold as she first becomes furious at Paul for killing Misery Chastain at the end of the last book in the series that just came out and later forces Paul to burn his new manuscript and write Misery's Return in its place. I'm not going to give away the details of her grand displays of dementia, but King does a great job of creating a desperate and bone-chilling environment for the duration of the reader's stay.

This novel only contains two main characters and one setting. And even in that one setting (Annie's house), we are mostly limited to one bedroom. This allows a greater focus on the development of these two characters. We learn what makes Paul Sheldon tick as a writer an, in turn, some insight into the mind of King as well. One thing that stuck out to me was Paul's recurring question of Can You? He uses this as motivation to get past his writer's block, to tell himself that he can create worlds and characters that people can relate to. He has a lot of time to think in this book--about life, mortality, writing, and the f'ed up situation he's found himself in--and this is one of his answers to his own infamous question:

"Can I? Yeah. You bet I can. There's a million things in this world I can't do. Couldn't hit a curveball, even back in high school. Can't fix a leaky faucet. Can't roller skate or make a F-chord on the guitar that sounds like anything but shit. I have tried twice to be married and couldn't do it either time. But if you want me to take you away, to scare you or involve you or make you cry or grin, yeah. I can. I can bring it to you and keep bringing it until you holler uncle. I am able. I can."

In conclusion, Misery is a great ride. Even if not a horror fan, anyone who has any interesting in writing should try to stomach the grotesque and the terror for some damn good commentary on what it means not only to thrive in this art but to live it to its fullest.

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